Cry me a river

I wish we knew how to lament better.

Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker posted something on Facebook last night about the incident in the McKinney video, in which a young girl, clad only in her bathing suit, was thrown, by her hair, onto the ground by a police officer after a fight broke out at a pool party.  I commented, and then went on to read some of the other comments.

There were, of course, comments expressing concern and outrage.  There were also comments in which the lack of compassion was so stunning it took my breath away.  I actually thought about quoting some of them here, because I was so angry and felt like calling people out, but then I remembered that no one’s mind or heart has ever been changed by being shamed.

There were people saying they were going to un-follow her because she made that statement.  Because she expressed her grief.  That made me angry.  That made me want to jump in the fray and do battle, because (in my head) Jen and I are friends.  But then I read a little further and realized there was already anger aplenty, so I just said a prayer and told Jen I was carrying her in my heart.

I’ve watched the video a few times now, trying to see what those people were seeing.  I can’t.  I can tell you this, I partied a fair amount in college.  I was at many parties that were broken up by the police, and rightly so.  Some were broken up for fights FAR worse than the one captured on that video.  The number of times I ever saw anyone at those parties treated in the way that fourteen year old girl was?  Zero.

I think it is important to note, that was the conduct of one of the three officers on the scene.  The other two are seen trying to reason with the crowd.  This is not about bashing police officers.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I have an enormous amount of respect for law enforcement and have had profound and positive experiences with them in my own life.  My personal feelings and experiences do not render me blind to a growing problem in this country.  I can hold two thoughts at the same time.  We all can.

I hear people condemn hip hop and rap all the time.  They talk about the anger and the violence referenced.  When I hear the same lyrics, I admit- I flinch sometimes.  But when I really think about what the artists are saying, I think those songs are a lament.  I think they are an expression of grief and despair.  They are no different than the Irish folk songs about the Troubles, or Civil Rights era soul music. It is pain, expressed.  It is hopelessness, wailed.  And yes, it is rage, howled.

No justice, no peace
Another black man shot dead in the streets
Make the whole hood feel sad, it’s sadness
But we feel mad, it’s madness


Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines lamentation as the passionate expression of grief or sorrow; weeping.  Lamentations are frequently in the form of song or poetry, and usually sung by women.  Long ago, women would sing those songs, and rend their garments. They would cover themselves in ashes.  They would mourn, and people would recognize it as such.

We don’t do that any more.  In a word, we suck at grief.  We seem to have collectively decided that such displays are self indulgent. We have moments where we get it right, but as a whole we each go into our little houses at night and turn our faces away from anything too unpleasant on the news.  Anything that feels too big to fix, too uncomfortable to look at, or that we’ve decided doesn’t have anything to do with us.

Well, guess what?  That’s not working.  It ALL has something to do with us.  None of us lives in a vacuum.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  

I think unexpressed grief invariably turns to despair.  Despair either gets turned inward, or outward.  When despair turns outward, it looks a lot like rage.

Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

Bruce Springsteen

When I was at Storyline Conference last year, I had the good fortune to hear the spoken word artist Propaganda speak   He… I actually still don’t have words for how he affected me.  I just know that I was different after I heard him.  I just watched a piece of his entitled Justice and the Gospel, in which he reminds us that we ARE the culture.  We are PARTICIPANTS.  We, every single damned one of us, are part of the problem and part of the solution.  When I hear people decry the “culture” these days, they are almost always talking about one group of people or another.  Hollywood or Hip Hop.  Whatever.  As though culture was one thing.  Our culture, the culture we live in, is ALL of us.  It is the tapestry of the threads of all of our lives and collective experiences woven together- so if you don’t like it, CHANGE YOUR THREAD.  Start THERE.

Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please.”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees  

Sam Cooke

You do not have to have owned a slave to be part of the story of racism in America.  I hate when people say that, as though that’s the only way to have metaphorical blood on our hands.  It’s cheap.  It’s a get out of jail free card we play in order to not have to examine our own prejudice and privilege.  It’s a way to keep on our blinders so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable about our role in it.

Our parents sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment.  

Book of Lamentations 5:7

We don’t get to do that.

I heard a very good woman say yesterday in response to having seen the video, “If that was MY girl, I would storm the barricades!” Well, I have news for you, SHE IS OUR GIRL. THEY’RE ALL OUR GIRLS. THEY’RE ALL OUR BOYS.

That’s the problem, friends.  This ridiculous notion of other that we’ve come to accept as the truth.

We are all in this together, every one of us.

Justice and the Gospel

Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” We’d better remember, and fast, or God help us all.

11 Comments on “Cry me a river

  1. I am not an expert, but your words soak into my very being. This to me is exactly that. A lamentation. I’m part of this very big problem in this very hurtful issue. I’m part of the solution too. That girl, and the others, are my girls.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: If We Have No Peace | Life Matters

  3. Thanks, Laura. I was reading the comments on Jen’s post, too, and crying. And then this morning I was reading comments on Sarah Bessey’s post — she shared Austin Channing Brown’s post, too — and I had to jump in. I don’t think it helped — people who agreed with me “liked” it, but the ones who I was asking to listen to Austin’s story instead of looking for ways to invalidate it just said, “We’re not doing that, you’re wrong, now let me tell you why her story isn’t valid.” It’s like we’re speaking a different language. I don’t know what to do, except to keep listening myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “It’s like we are speaking a different language.”

      Yes – that’s what it feels like and it is maddening, isn’t it? I just don’t see what they see and they don’t see what I see and I don’t get it. People I have my entire life loved and respected saying things that are so very hard to even comprehend, much less respect. It’s crazy making. On these issues I just pray and wrestle and mourn for the Church.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you Jen, perfectly executed. This is the healthiest perspective I’ve seen. You left nothing out. Your intent seems is coming from a place of love and honesty. You have given a gift, an opportunity for clarity and peace of mind for those who are ready. I especially like the quote from Mother Theresa. Thank you for being part of the solution.


  5. Yes, indeed, we are ALL each other’s, One thing you said, “I can hold two thoughts at the same time,” defines the problem between those who can and do, vs. those who can’t and won’t. That fragment that can’t let go of ” cops do no wrong,” because they see it as a surrender to “all cops do wrong.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Hinges | In Others' Words...

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